Monday, November 30, 2009

Graphic Novel Monday: I Feel Like a Grown-Up Now, by Jim

I Feel Like a Grown-Up Now: the fifth "Jim's Journal" collection, by Jim. Published 1998 by Andrews McNeel Publishing.

Click here to buy I Feel Like a Grown-Up Now via I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a portion of sales made through this website.

The author of the Jim's Journal series is actually Scott Dikkers, one of the founding members of The Onion; Jim's Journal is a strip that I first read in college newspapers and of which I quickly became a fan. This latest installment retains much of the charm and zen-like minimalism of previous entries. In this one, Jim is still working at the copy store and still living with his cat Mr. Peterson; what's changed is that he's making a go of married life with Ruth, his sweetheart of several volumes.

The format is always the same; each strip is made up of four panels about half to three-quarters simple line art and a little dialogue and narration. The consistency of the presentation underscores the quotidian rhythm of Jim's life. The story lines are pretty simple- just Jim and his everyday life- going to work, washing the dishes, hanging out with his friends, and contemplating life's big questions in his own way:
"Today," one four panel strip begins, "at the copy store Dan and I were talking. 'There's probably lots better jobs than this,' he said. We sat around and tried to think of better jobs. 'Seismologist!" he said."

Jim's Journal is relatively free of profanity or sex but I think children would have difficulty grasping Jim's worldview; for perspective alone it's best left to adults or perhaps older teens. I really enjoy not only Jim but the little panoply of people in his life- Ruth, Steve, Tony, his coworkers and family- and the quiet and realistic way they and their relationships are portrayed. Definitely not flashy but rewarding nonetheless, Jim's Journal is worth a minute or two of your time.

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Salon - Post Thanksgiving

So I hope that those of you who celebrated this week had a great Thanksgiving; mine was pretty nice. My husband and I went to his parents' house for dinner and that was only the beginning of the weekend's festivities. His aunt and uncle came up from New York along with their daughter on Friday. We went out shopping with them on Friday afternoon and then on Saturday morning he and I hosted our annual post-Thanksgiving, kick-off-the-Christmas-season brunch, which is what you see pictured above. I baked pumpkin muffins, a sour cream coffee cake, cranberry cornbread and currant scones- two days of baking, consumed in about two hours! (Not to mention the cheesecake I made for Thanksgiving itself!) Actually we had fewer people than usual this year and there were a lot of leftovers. We hit the mall for more shopping yesterday, although except for a couple of new Christmas pins it was mostly browsing for me. We visited with folks again this morning before they drove back to NYC, and now we're home.

And when I say we're home, I mean home- as soon as I got back I changed into clean pajamas and plan to spend the day getting caught up online and reading. I might take a walk later- but later! For now I'm still working my way through Wolf Hall. I'm also about half way through The Red Leather Diary, by Lily Koppel, which is an interesting book to say the least. Not sure I'm in love with it but it has its merits. More later!

Was your holiday weekend busy or laid back? What are you doing to relax or catch up? Whatever it is I hope you enjoy the day.

You can read more Sunday Salon posts here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Finds

Two great books came my way this week.

Shades of Grey, Jasper Fforde's new one, came for review from the publisher. I'm really looking forward to this; early reviews on LibraryThing indicate that it's more sophisticated and serious than his earlier books, but a quick glance also tells me it's not missing his trademark dry wit. So it should be great!

One of my best girlfriends sent me a signed hardcover of Paul Auster's latest, Invisible. Jean and I became big fans of his when we were in college and read The New York Trilogy; for a long time I had a poster from the reading he did for it at MIT hanging in my bedroom. I'm behind on his books these days though and really, really need to catch up.

I don't know about you, but I feel like with all the great books coming out and all the older classics I want to read, I'll never catch up- but that won't stop me from trying!

I hope everyone has a great weekend and gets to spend some time lost in your TBR piles!

More Friday Finds are at

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone who celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday today is having a great one. In lieu of a regular post, I thought I'd share the fruits of a little writing exercise I did last week at a brown bag lunch workshop at Boston's Grub Street, a local writing studio and workshop space. We were told to write a brief sketch about a Thanksgiving dinner at which there was an unexpected guest.

I can't believe she brought him, Alice thought. What was she thinking? Is there even room?

Earlene came in through the front door all smiles, Robert close behind, almost right over her shoulder, a sheepish grin on his doughy face.

"Hell-o Alice!" Earlene bellowed.

Oh my God, Alice thought, Oh my God. Earlene hugged her, lifted her off the ground. "So good to see you, little sis!"

Alice pried herself away. "Hi Earlie," she said, "hi Rob."

"Hi Allie," Rob said.

"Alice, Rob, it's Alice," Alice said. She stood back. Robert edged his way past the women, hung up his coat and stood behind Earlene. Earlene put her arm around his shoulders.

"Oh I forgot you two knew each other!" Earlene laughed.

No you didn't, Alice thought.

Earlene ruffled his curly blond hair. "How long has it been Al? Since you two saw each other?"

Not long enough, Alice thought. "Two years."

"Well I guess we'll have a nice little reunion then!" Earlene looked at Rob, who was blushing.

"You can hang your coat over by Rob's, Earlie" Alice said. "Dinner's in an hour. You can help yourself to hors d'oeuvres. I'm going to get something to drink. You want anything?" Alice turned her back and headed toward the kitchen.

I was thinking of expanding this into a short story at some point- where do you think it should go from here?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blogging, Comments and Manners Online

When I first started my blog, I got a pointed lesson in blogging etiquette when, after sending a fellow blogger an email in which I praised the blogger's blog, I received a rather tart reply to the effect that I should have left my remark in a comment, since this person did after all leave a comment on my blog and didn't I know that it's poor manners to not return a comment. Oh, wow. And here I was thinking I had given this person a nice compliment- but apparently that wasn't good enough, and I had failed to meet my obligations. I didn't know I had any! Is it good manners to point out someone else's breach, even when that person meant to be kind? What is the well-mannered blogger to do?

For that matter, what are our obligations to other bloggers? What constitutes good manners in the blogging world? Responding to every comment? Visiting every blog that visits yours? As a new blogger that email created this anxiety that I had to visit every single person who visited me, that I had to respond to every single comment. As I found out, nobody has that kind of time.

So how to strike a balance? How to manage all this without hurt feelings? I post pretty regularly about five to six times per week, and there are people who comment on (nearly) every post, and I love them. But unless they also post five to six times per week and I can comment on every single post, I can't catch up in terms of raw numbers. Is it enough to visit once or twice a week? To comment because I have something to say, and not just to even up some balance sheet? Over time, I've come up with a very informal policy: I make an effort to visit the blogs that visit mine, to keep up on the blogs I follow in my reader, and to respond to direct questions. I leave them in my inbox until I've done something with them but if I have six comments from one person and they've posted once in the last week, I'll read and comment on that entry but not wait for five more to call it even. And, whatever's left over in the inbox at the end of the month gets deleted. And as hard as I try to stay current, I know that ultimately it may be a losing battle; there's always going to be more content out there than there is time to read it.

There's also the issue of what you say. People who leave rude, negative comments on a book when I've reviewed it positively? (Oh you liked that? I hated that!) Or say mean things about someone who died who they didn't like? If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. I'm open to hearing opposing views, but I don't need to know you visited if you're going to be flat-out unpleasant.

Then there are people whose blogs I read and comment on regularly who I don't think have ever commented on mine. Do I continue to read them, even though those bloggers have shown no interest and no sense of reciprocity? Well, I like the blog, so yes, probably, even though honestly it can feel disappointing. Not because I think they should comment now and then but because I wish they would. After all, I enjoy their blogs- why don't they like mine? *Sniff* But I think keeping track of who comments and who doesn't, and how that stacks up against who I read is petty, and since I have no right to demand anything, I'll just have to respect other bloggers' rights to set their own policies.

There's also the issue of email etiquette, a topic about which I could write another post. From time to time I'll get an email from someone asking me for advice of some kind- on library school, or blogging, or something. Sometimes it's a friend, or a friend of a friend, or sometimes it's someone who reads my blog. Either way it's very flattering- who doesn't love being asked for advice, right? So I try to respond promptly (within a few days) and I do my best to give good answers but I've noticed that in nearly every case (except for one personal friend who emailed me for advice about library school), the person asking the question never writes back to say thank you. Now that's what I call bad manners. And if you think it doesn't matter, wait to see how far laziness like that gets you in the long run. I'm not perfect- I've made every mistake in the book when it comes to etiquette, and I've suffered the consequences- but I'm learning.

So, when it comes to commenting on blogs, let's just say we'll do the best we can to show interest in others, appreciate when others show interest in us and try to resist the urge to keep tabs on who has and hasn't reciprocated this or that. Don't complain to me that I haven't commented enough on your blog. Nothing will do more to encourage me to ignore you completely. And please, if someone takes time out of his or her life to answer your unsolicited questions, thank that person for his or her time and attention to your concerns. Why make a bad impression when it's so easy to make a good one?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Graphic Novel Monday: Diary of the Black Widow, by Bret M. Herholz

Diary of the Black Widow, by Bret M. Herholz. Published 2007 by Alterna Comics. Graphica. Fiction.

Diary of the Black Widow is a fairly light and rather entertaining comic thriller about a young woman who realizes she has the power to seduce men and make them do her bidding. As you might guess from the title, she marries and kills her lovers and accumulates their wealth, and all is going swimmingly until the day she meets a bumbling detective and his assistant who are determined to unravel her crimes.

Her first victim is young Adam Grumble, whose parents are so thankful to her for her help in investigating their son's death that they reward her with his college fund. From there she goes on to bigger and richer prey. She is unnerved by the arrival of the Detective Inspector and his assistant, Jenkins, but they prove to be both ineffectual and sexist, as they assume that only a man could have committed her crimes and that the cemetery in the back of her house could only be full of cats.

The black and white artwork looks like a rough approximation of Edward Gorey. The characters have exaggerated, thin bodies and wear Edwardian clothes in their gothic scenes and settings. The lettering looks like old-fashioned typescript. It's an appealing, funny parody of the Sherlock Holmes-type detective story, complete with a femme fatale and illogical deduction. Some sexual references and mild violence make Diary a fun book for teens and adults. The edition I read includes fan art and even a dramatic adaptation. It's a fun little graphic novel that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Salon

So this past week has been pretty busy between one thing and another, and this weekend is no different. Today I'm attending my new writing group for the first time as an active participant- that is to say, as someone whose work is up for review. Eek! They're nice people and good writers, and I know it will be fun and useful.

Speaking of writing, I'm working away on my #NaNoWriMo project. On Wednesday I sat down at the library and wrote 5,000 words. And for the rest of the week? A big fat nothing. But I've decided that's okay and while I know I won't reach 50,000 words this month, I will finish this project. My goal now is to finish the first draft by my birthday in February; I'm glad I decided to participate in NaNo but I've decided it's okay if "all" I do is use it as an opportunity to start. All the daily updating and progress-charting and tweeting and comparing-with-friends has just been stressing me out and there's no need to be stressed out by a self-imposed schedule. You just change it is all.

And finally, with the holiday season nearly upon us, I hope everyone (who celebrates it) has a wonderful Thanksgiving this week. My plans? Bake a lot, then drive two towns over to visit my inlaws and eat a lot. We have some family coming up the day after and my husband and I host a brunch every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I'll be baking a cheesecake for Thanksgiving itself, then a selection of muffins and cakes for the brunch. Yum! What are your plans?

You can read more Sunday Salon posts here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Finds

Three finds this week.

The Photograph, by Penelope Lively, came from Bookmooch. I read about it on Janeology author Karen Harrington's Scobberlotch blog and it sounded really interesting, about a man who discovers a picture of his wife holding hands with another man, who then becomes determined to find out the story behind the picture. Oh, and you should be reading Karen's blog if you're not already!

The Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov's last work, was published on Tuesday and I was the first person to buy it at my local indie, Porter Square Books. It's a collection of notes on his last novel, which he never completed. The book actually reproduces his notecards and you can pop them out and mimic Nabokov's writing process by playing around with the order. I don't think I'm actually going to do that but what a fascinating concept.

Finally, Whom God Would Destroy, by Commander Pants (ahem) arrived late last week for review. This just looks like fun- a religious parody of sorts. Can't wait.

What can't you wait to read this week?

More Friday Finds at

Thursday, November 19, 2009

REVIEW: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, by Vladimir Nabokov

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, by Vladimir Nabokov. Published 2008 by New Directions Books. Literary Fiction.

Anticipating Tuesday's publication of Vladimir Nabokov's final work, The Original of Laura, I decided to pick up one of his novels a few weeks ago, and chose The Real Life of Sebastian Knight because I hadn't read it before and because it happened to be available in the bookstore when I was out shopping one night. A little walk on the cerebral side, it's a great choice for readers of modern fiction looking for something a little unusual.

The book purports to be an attempt at a biography of a deceased writer named Sebastian Knight, written by his half-brother, known only as "V." But is it? Is V. who he says he is? What are his real feelings towards Sebastian? And how can we know what someone's "real" life is, or was?

If you pick up this particular edition, don't skip critic Michael Dirda's excellent introduction. He lays out a number of important issues presented in the book, a puzzle within a puzzle. "Remember," V. tells us early on, "that what you are told is really threefold: shaped by the teller, reshaped by the listener, concealed from both by the dead man of the tale." In other words, take everything with a grain of salt, question everything and don't trust anybody to tell you the truth.

I had a great time reading The Real Life of Sebastian Knight; I can't remember the last time I read something so enigmatic, something that shrank from my grasp so even as I got closer and closer to the core of the narrative. I loved the puzzles, the misdirections and the ambiguity, and just the sheer beauty of Nabokov's prose. I always enjoy unreliable-narrator stories and nobody does that better than Nabokov. And I loved reading this book just before the publication of The Original of Laura, basically a rough draft that was salvaged by Nabokov's son- in The Real Life, the narrator makes comments and raises issues that made me think of the phenomenon of Laura coming to light. So if you would like a book that's going to make you work a little, remember that there's more to Nabokov than Lolita and think about The Real Life of Sebastian Knight.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

REVIEW: Valley of Strength, by Shulamit Lapid

Valley of Strength, by Shulamit Lapid. Published 2009 by the Toby Press. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Hebrew.

Valley of Strength is a very fine historical novel by Israeli writer Shulamit Lapid, about the settlement of pre-state Israel. Set at the end of the 19th century and focusing on a 16-year-old girl named Fania, it tracks the growth of a settlement at Gai Oni, later called Rosh Pinnah, and details the hardships and struggles of the settlers.

Fania is a survivor of pogroms in Ukraine, and comes to Palestine to live with her out-of-wedlock child, her brother and her husband, Yehiel, a slightly older widower and father who marries her out of charity. The two develop a real affection for each other as Fania grows in confidence and independence. Determined to make a better life for herself and her nascent family, she gets involved in business and diplomacy and immerses herself in the pioneer life, often struggling to make her voice heard as a woman in this harsh landscape:
Of all the things said, what seared her memory was not the argument with Eleazar, but words casually spoken by the doctor- "Nine Biluists in Gedera, and one woman." As if she isn't a person! Nine human beings and something else. A goat, a mule, a woman...This woman must be stronger than her comrades, since she needs greater powers of body and spirit than those of the men if she is to be capable of making a living with them in isolation.
I found Valley of Strength to be a beautifully written literary novel with a strong voice, appealing characters and a story I could invest in. It's moving and heartbreaking, devastating and hopeful. I loved Fania and Yehiel and rooted for their relationship to blossom and for their family to succeed. I loved Fania's courage and tenacity as she navigates a nearly impossible situation. And I enjoyed reading about life in pre-state Israel; scenes of recent immigrants digging up the rocks in the soil and praying for rain resonated for me with American frontier memoirs. A lovely, unforgettable book.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

As a side note, anyone interested in translations of Israeli and other Jewish literature should keep an eye on The Toby Press and their series of these books. They are published in high quality hardcover editions with beautiful cover art and paper.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Graphic Novel Monday: Rex Libris; I, Librarian, by James Turner

Rex Libris: I, Librarian, by James Turner. Published 2007 by SLG Publishing. Graphica. Fiction.

Rex Libris: I, Librarian, by James Turner, is a collection of the first five volumes of the comic book of the same name; it tracks the adventures of intrepid librarian/super hero Rex Libris, who roams the universe on a mission to save the world and his library's collections.

Rex is just your average librarian, a dedicated professional working at the Middleton Public Library, home to rare scrolls and manuscripts, staffed by tempermental mythological beings and frequented by vampires, aliens and warlords. In other words, just your average suburban library. The volumes collected here comprise an introduction to this world and the first of what will surely be many adventures as Rex travels to the planet Benzine and fights a race of space snowmen for some overdue library books.

It's a very silly book, characterized by self-conscious cleverness and a very distinctive, Art Deco visual style dominated by sharp angles, thick lines and a plethora of details. I like the style very much but I found the tiny lettering to be difficult to read at times; I'd like to see this story in a larger format. I liked the irreverence and sense of humor on display; Rex's sidekick is Simonides, a Greek lyric poet now trapped in the body of a bird thanks to a run-in with Circe, who now works the circulation desk at Middleton Public. Rex's boss is Egyptian mythological figure Thoth, who likes his raspberry chocolate lattes with cream and chocolate sprinkles. And Rex must contend with R. Barry Horst, his publisher, who'd like Rex to punch his story up and make it more commercial.

With some profanity and sexual references, Rex Libris would be a good choice for older teens and adults. It's a funny satire of libraries, a light space adventure and a cute read for anyone with a slightly off-balance sense of humor. I would think of it for readers who enjoy Terry Pratchett and his brand of self-referential cleverness. I'll definitely be on the lookout for the latest collection!


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Salon

A rainy Sunday, and I've got a few things going on today. My book club is having a regional dinner tonight at a local church; my club is one of 12 local chapters and once a year we all get together for a meal and some time together. It should be a good time and it will take most of the day.

Yesterday my husband and I went to the New England Fan Experience, a science fiction convention that focused mainly on Star Trek and Doctor Who. It was fun, but it was the worst-organized one of these I've ever been to. He and I each had photos taken with a star from one of our favorite shows (he had his with Gareth David-Lloyd of Torchwood and I had mine with John de Lancie of Star Trek: The Next Generation) but the organizers were hours behind printing them and my husband has to go back today to get the pictures. Leonard Nimoy was there too, and the city of Boston declared yesterday Leonard Nimoy Day. I didn't get to meet him, though! But it was fun milling around, meeting some other fans and wandering through the vendor room. I got to say hi to Bettina Kurkoski, author of My Cat Loki, the first manga series I read. She also contributed to the Star Trek manga series- very cool.

Later on, we caught up with my dad, who's just back from a two-week trip to China. He went by himself and it was his first trip abroad. He had an amazing time- and came back with stacks of pictures and about 12 hours of video! We didn't get through it all last night but he showed us some souvenirs and answered all our questions. I'm sure I'll have more though!

Lots to do today- time to get started. I hope you have a great day! You can read more Sunday Salon posts here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Finds

A variety of Friday Finds this week!

V: The Second Generation, by Kenneth Johnson. Can I tell you a secret? I am a lame V fangirl. I got this from the Barnes & Noble bargain table, and a good thing, too- somehow I doubt it will turn out to be a classic of Western literature.

More likely to be is The True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey's Booker Prize winner. It came from Bookmooch.

Victor Lodato's Mathilda Savitch came to me from my friends at Macmillan. Thank you! I'm looking forward to reading it soon.

You can find more Friday Finds at

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

btt button

Suggested by JM:

“Life is too short to read bad books.” I’d always heard that, but I still read books through until the end no matter how bad they were because I had this sense of obligation.

That is, until this week when I tried (really tried) to read a book that is utterly boring and unrealistic. I had to stop reading.

Do you read everything all the way through or do you feel life really is too short to read bad books?

Life is definitely too short for bad books. If something is keeping me going- I want to know how a character turns out, or a plot- I'll keep going. But I'm getting to the point where, even if I've promised a review, if I'm struggling badly I'll let the book go. Sometimes I do an "Unfinished Fridays" feature, where I'll talk about a book I didn't finish- generally those are books I promised to review that I couldn't get through. Otherwise if I don't finish a book it will never be mentioned on my blog.

Read more Booking Through Thursday responses here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mini Read-A-Thon: A Mini Wrap-Up

Well, this mini read-a-thon was far from the blazing success of the first; I got through a grand total of one book and halfway through a second before I lost my concentration. Just one of those days!

I read Bonjour Tristesse, by Françoise Sagan, in its tiny entirety, and got through four chapters of Hotel du Lac, a Booker Prize winner by Anita Brookner. I'm enjoying it and plan on finishing. Tristesse was slight and fun, sort of. We'll see if it gets the full Boston-Bibliophile-review treatment.

Thanks to my cheerleaders for your support and to Vasilly of 1330V for doing this one with me. Maybe I'll give it another shot some other time- today just wasn't my day.

Mini Read-A-Thon! Again!

So a couple of weeks ago, after a bunch of bloggers participated in Dewey's 24 Hour Read-A-Thon, I did a 12 hour mini read-a-thon just for graphic novels.

It was a great success- I read a ton of books, ran a fun giveaway and got lots of good work done for my Graphic Novel Monday series.

No giveaways in the offing today, but Vasilly of 1330V and I are giving the idea another go. This time we're concentrating on short novels- you know, those thin little volumes you pick up and say "Oh that's so short, it'll be no problem to read" and then just never get to? Well, we decided to do something about it. Today.

In my list:
The Little Disturbances of Man, by Grace Paley
The Book of Getting Even, by Benjamin Taylor
What I Was, by Meg Rosoff
Man in the Dark, by Paul Auster
John the Revelator, by Peter Murphy
(I read The Polski Affair since taking this photo)
Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner
The Book of the Unknown, by Jonathan Keats
Summer Lightning, by P.G. Wodehouse
Bonjour Tristesse, by Françoise Sagan

I don't expect to get through them all! I'll be happy to finish three or four. But I'll keep at it until 9 p.m. tonight. I'll have an update at 3 and another one just after 9. Wish me and Vasilly luck!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

REVIEW: Slumberland, by Paul Beatty

Slumberland, by Paul Beatty. Published 2008 by Bloomsbury. Literary Fiction.

I read Slumberland courtesy of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Slumberland, by Paul Beatty, is a lively, vibrant cracking good read about an African American disk jockey called DJ Darky, who finds what he believes is the perfect beat, a piece of music so moving and evocative and perfect that he is compelled to search out its composer in newly reunified Germany. Along the way he meets friends and lovers, explores issues of race and identity in both Europe and America, and shares his love of music through his energetic prose.

Definitely what I'd call a character- and language-driven book, the slight plot bounces along on Beatty's elastic, creative and oftentimes raunchy language. The graphic sex and drug references start on page 1 and don't let up- this isn't a book for Puritans. The language carries the story of DJ Darky's search for Charles Stone, composer of a piece of music Darky finds on a porn video, as he traverses post-reunification Germany with an assortment of characters including a needy girlfriend, an ex-Stasi agent with an unhealthy fondness for poultry and a pair of black German sisters likewise struggling to come to terms with race and identity.

But it's not all serious. Believe me, it's not. Beatty's sense of humor infects every aspect of the storytelling. Take his reflection on German culture and mores:
German bars don't have happy hours. They have hubris hours. There is no designated time for hubris hour. It happens unexpectedly and without warning. The bartender doesn't ring a bell at five P.M., announce that for the next two hours drinks are two for one, and that sage advice and unmitigated superciliousness are on the house.
And trust me, sarcasm like that doesn't even begin to cover it. I can't even get into some of the stuff that goes on in Slumberland. It's a fantastic, addictive read that will carry you along with its musical, vibrant language, engaging setting and eccentric characters. Visit Slumberland for yourself and see what I mean.

Rating: BUY

Monday, November 9, 2009

Graphic Novel Monday: The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka and adapted by Peter Kuper

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka. Graphic adaptation by Peter Kuper. Published 2003 by Three Rivers Press.

Click here to buy The Metamorphosis from via I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a portion of the proceeds.

As I've said before, I'm not the biggest fan of graphic novels adapted from literary sources; I think it takes a combination of the right book and the right kind of adaptation to really make it work. Novel-length stories are difficult to adapt because by necessity, most of the narration and even most of the dialog has to come out in order for the graphic adaptation to be a readable length, but I think Peter Kuper hit it just right with his adaptation of Franz Kafka's classic The Metamorphosis, about the unfortunate Gregor Samsa, who awakens one day to find he's been transformed into a cockroach.

The story is rendered in beautiful, disturbing and at times chilling chiaroscuro- black on white and white on black, with varied lettering, varied panels. Much of the narration is rendered in a typeface-like script; the lettering changes depending on the emotional content of what's being communicated, and the panels can go from a tiny, claustrophobic closeup to a two-page nightmare dreamscape. Sometimes the pictures take on the shape of bodies or objects, especially at moments of heightened emotion. I loved how Kuper really makes the reader engage with the art and makes the art so central to the storytelling. As they say, it's not just the medium- it's the message.

The fantastical story and adult themes all render the book suitable for older teens and adults. (I think when it comes to literary adaptation in general, if the source material isn't suitable for young children, the adaptation won't be, either.) I really admire the way the artwork and storytelling work together in The Metamorphosis to create a surreal, violent and haunting world. It's a great little book for fans of graphic novels and classic literature alike.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this review for review from the publisher.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Salon

Happy Sunday!

It's been a fun weekend. We had some family in town earlier in the weekend and got to spend some time with them yesterday- nothing outrageous, just some good low-key family time. Today I have to catch up on my NaNoWriMo project (I'm behind by about 4,000 words. How embarrassing.) and go to the gym.

Yesterday I firmed up plans to send my Graphic Novel Giveaway package to Ashley of My Book Blog; congratulations to her and I hope she enjoys the books. I've got some reading set aside as well- I'm still working on Hilary Mantel's wonderful Wolf Hall and a couple of graphic novels I took out from the library. I expect Wolf Hall to take a little while yet, then I'm on to Children of Dust, a memoir about growing up in Pakistan.

Vasilly of 1330V and I are going to do a mini-read-a-thon this coming Wednesday, to try to whittle down our stacks of smaller paperbacks. I'll be starting around 9 am and going until 9 pm, just like during my graphic novel read-a-thon a couple of weeks ago, and probably post twice or three times at the most. Should be fun! :-)

What's up with you today?

Read more Sunday Salon posts here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Finds

Three finds to tell you about this week. As a reward to myself for getting through half of my unread graphic novels during last week's mini Read-a-thon, I picked up two new ones- Janes in Love, by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg, and Kaspar, by Diane Obomsawin.

Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh, arrived via LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. Can't wait to get started!

What did you find this week? See more Friday Finds at

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

REVIEW: The Polski Affair, by Leon H. Gildin

The Polski Affair, by Leon H. Gildin. Published 2009 by Diamond River Books. Fiction.

The Polski Affair is historical fiction based on a real occurrence during World War II Poland, when the Nazis used the Warsaw Hotel Polski as a way-station for Jews who were told that they could buy fake passports and papers that would allow them to emigrate to South America. First-time author Gildin tracks what's known to have happened to many of the Jews who attempted this- they were sent first to France and then back to the German concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Some were also sent to the Pawiak prison camp or Auschwitz for execution, and a very few with Palestinian papers survived.

The Polski Affair is the story of one of these survivors, a woman now called Anna Adler who lives in Israel with her common-law husband Itzik, now called Chaim, also a Polski survivor. The novel tells the story of how she lost her husband and children, how she came to the hotel, how she secured her and Itzik's survival via a relationship with a Nazi commander and what became of her family after the war. That's a lot of ground to cover, and Gildin does it in a clipped, plot-centric style that leaves very little room for emotion or character-building. As she's preparing to return to Europe to testify against the Nazi during his war crimes trial, she says
The next day I called the number on the American captain's paperwork, told the operator who I was, why I was calling and with whom I would be traveling. An officer got on the line and I was given instructions when to arrive, who would pick us up at the airport, where we would be staying, and who would pick us up for my appearance in court. The deed was done. Googy [her nickname for the Nazi] was back in my life
Boom. Just like that.

I found this matter-of-fact style a little out of sync with the events described- a little too rational and cold, and not emotional enough. Anna tells us about what happens but Gildin doesn't help us feel the weight of it. The book was just okay for me; not bad, but not particularly good, either. Like Sarah's Key and its description of the Vélodrome d'Hiver roundup, it illuminates a little-known corner of Holocaust lore; unlike Sarah's Key, it lacks a heroine with whom the reader can really connect on an emotional level. A good choice for those with a profound interest in Holocaust literature, the average reader can probably pass on this one.

I encourage you to read Lorri's review at her blog, Jew Wishes.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays

I've got a busy day ahead and I'm not sure there's going to be time for a review today so I'll do a teaser instead.
All he has to do is to make a strangling motion, quickly, while the cardinal has his eyes shut. Cavendish, putting a hand to his throat, takes the point. And then they look at each other, sheepish. One of them has said too much; one of them has felt too much. it is not easy to know where the balance rests. his eyes scan te banks of the Thames. Still, the cardinal weeps and grips his hand.
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, p. 46.

To see more teasers, visit Miz B at Should Be Reading.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Graphic Novel Monday: Glister 1: Glister and The Haunted Teapot, by Andi Watson

Glister volume 1 : Glister and the Haunted Teapot, by Andi Watson. Published August 2007 by Image Comics. Paperback.

Click here to buy Glister via I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a portion of the sale price.

In this all-ages comic by artist/writer Andi Watson young Glister Butterworth finds a teapot haunted by the spirit of a deceased writer who wants her to help him complete his last novel. Fearing that this task will take the rest of her natural life, Glister goes on a quest to rid herself of the troublesome crockery- but she finds something quite delightful instead, something that she doesn't quite expect.

The first in a three-part series, Glister is characterized by simple, fun black and white artwork, a charming old-English setting and a simple story perfect for anyone looking for a sweet, light read. Glister would be a particularly good choice for girls, what with the plucky, initiative-taking heroine and the surprise at the end. It's clean as a whistle and fine for kids of all ages. I'm finding myself becoming a fan of Watson's, whose grown-up book Paris I've also reviewed. He writes about girls and women with empathy and a nice light touch. It's a great one to borrow from your local library (or buy) and share with your little one.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday Salon

How great is it to have Daylight Savings Time fall on Halloween? I mean, you get to stay out late because it's not a work/school night, on a night full of fun things to do, and then sleep in an extra hour the next day?

And it was a perfect fall day- sunny and in the 60's, perfect for showing off that costume and walking around collecting candy.

I hope everyone who celebrates had a great Halloween yesterday. My husband and I dressed up in Star Trek costumes and passed out candy at my inlaws' house in the 'burbs after spending the afternoon carving pumpkins. Jeff is an amazing pumpkin carver and manages to outdo himself every year. Check out this year's pumpkins- a scary

owl, and then, because we're a reading family, a pumpkin carving of Edgar Allan Poe. How cool is that?

Afterward, we went to a local jazz club to hear

one of our friends perform with his band. What a terrific day!

Today? Today I'm writing. Like, not blog stuff but writing stuff. I joined NaNoWriMo and while I don't expect to be the next Faulkner I think it will be a good experience for me. I also just joined a writing workshop my husband has been in for a couple of years now and today is my first meeting with them. Wish me luck!!!

I hope everyone has a great Sunday. You can read more Sunday Salon posts here.